Television production is often thought of as taking place either in the studio, on location or in the edit suite. Todd Gitlen’s book Inside Primetime and Nick Couldry’s work has encouraged us to think about this kind of production taking place ‘inside’ the media space: sites that we are generally only allowed access to under rarefied conditions or in a defined and designated position as ‘audience’. Work on flexible labour, self-exploitation and the new economy (Ross, Hesmondhalgh, Caldwell and many others) has, however, started to question that dichotomy of inside/outside production, as employees ‘free-est thoughts’ (Ross 2004: 17–19) are enlisted in corporate service through work they can’t stop doing.
That blurred boundary between work and home life is something we expected to find in our current study of social media as a television production technology as part of the wider ADAPT project. However, in this post I don’t want to concentrate on these issues of flexible labour and self-exploitation but rather how they change our conception of the television production space and, indeed, the make-up and organisation of production teams.
If, and it’s still an ‘if’ at this point, social media is a television production technology (and not merely an ancillary platform for marketing and promotion) then it is one that exemplifies the increasing ‘leakiness’ between production worlds – inside the media sphere – and the ordinary, outside world.
Our interviews have explored how social media has been adapted into working practices in television, including the new partners/departments with whom TV producers now work more closely such as marketing, PR, comms and social media agencies. We talk to these ‘TV producers’ about where/how/when they worked on social media as part of their television production. At a small Indie where social media was handled by the MD and a 0.5 PR manager (who spends the other 50% of her time managing distribution at the company), they talked about how social media had extended the production work of television to well-after the TX date had passed (and budget spent). It was described as ‘almost never ending’. This sharply contrasts with the findings from my previous research on multiplatform production cultures where TV production companies were perceived by those within television and those in digital media as ceasing long before the TX date. During that work it was the occasional producer who might play around with Twitter at the point of transmission, but with little strategy or imperative to do so – particularly as they and the rest of the production team may now have moved on to a different production.
3 or 4 years later, social media is much more accepted as a basic currency of television production (even if still held in lower regard than the TV itself: i.e. the show). Thus at this small Indie, their PR manager spoke of doing her social media work “from my phone, my iPad, laptop at home”. Together, with her MD, they were “on the same Twitter account at the same time on two different devices”, just “Constantly, on lots of different platforms, all the time”. Their anecdotes extended to “live tweeting from the park” whilst looking after their kids.
At another company, those responsible for social media talked of tweeting programme and channel brands ‘on Christmas day, decked out in my onesie’. Or working from home in communication with the rest of the TV production crew on set, whilst another member of the team responsible for memes and gifs worked at their house at a separate location: all communicating during the live broadcast of the programme and reacting to one-another’s output. In such examples, TV production is no longer ‘inside’ the media sphere, but spread out across various sites that blur these inside/outside boundaries.
Home as a site of (media) work might not be new: with the reduction in costs of software packages, digital file formats and high processing power, self-shooting directors have long worked at home on rough cuts or even final edits.
What is perhaps different here is the way in which this integration of social media into television is figured into the production spaces and organization of television. Thus at one broadcaster, there is a rota of social media workers to be on the Twitter and social media accounts for particular day periods, either proactively producing content or reactively being on call for ‘emergencies’ (what exactly television emergencies are, outside of news and current affairs, is the subject for another blog). How far this organization has changed is perhaps reflected in the story told by a former commissioner at the same broadcaster, who had been at the cutting edge of social media integration into TV. This meant, sitting at home ‘probably [with] some crappy IBM’ because he ‘wasn’t allowed a macbook’, ‘just hoping everything didn’t crash’. It was, as he surmised, ‘all a bit glued together’.
Whilst the home fires of production seem to still be stoked by a reliance on producers drawing on their own kit – from smart phones to tablets, macbooks to dashboards – the importance and organization of this space has amplified. Thus at key moments or on bigger brands, those outside practices of social media are now brought inside in ‘big war rooms’, with with huge screens and staff to deal with the social media, building on the relationships and strategies built over expanding nexus of TV production space.
I don’t think I’ve nailed the meaning or consequences of this shift in TV production in this post. Indeed I hope, with 2 years to go and some exciting ‘inside’ access agreed in principle, that I haven’t! But it’s an intriguing thought to consider that the next time you’re in the park, the restaurant or just watching TV: the person next to you transfixed by their mobile screen might not (just) be addicted to social media; they could be a TV producer hard at (home) work.
Dr James Bennett is a Reader in Television & Digital Culture at Royal Holloway, University of London. His work focuses on digital television as well as TV fame.